Many people believe that true entrepreneurs are born, not made. If this is true, then Frederick Hutson was certainly born to be a successful businessman.
Although he is now known primarily as the founder of the revolutionary communication platform Pigeonly, the business was by no means Hutson’s first venture. In fact, he was already dabbling in entrepreneurship while still in high school – first fixing fans and fridges, later operating a more organized window-tinting business. Before joining the U.S. Air Force, he managed to open and sell a cellphone store.
By his early twenties, Hutson was well on the path towards becoming a serial successful business owner. Unfortunately, after an honorable discharge from the Air Force, his entrepreneurial instincts took him in an unusual direction. Spotting an opportunity for improving an acquaintance’s illegal operation, he became involved in distributing weed from Mexico to Florida – via UPS and FedEx, no less. Although the not-so-legal venture was running smoothly for several after Hutson’s improvements, the law caught up with him and despite being a first-time offender, he found himself facing a four-year sentence.
Taking the good with the bad
For most people, this would prove to be a downfall and a setback impossible to overcome. However, in a way, Hutson managed to turn even a stint in prison into a future opportunity.
It was while he was incarcerated that he began to notice an untapped niche. Namely, the lack of efficient, convenient means for communication between prisoners and their family members. Hutson experienced this first-hand – his family had trouble keeping in touch with him, the calls were expensive, and, to make matters worse, he was moved between facilities several times while serving his sentence.
The main principle behind his idea was simple: to make it easier for people on the outside to communicate with their partners and relatives in prison
After leaving prison, rather than attempting to conceal his past, he used his experience to his advantage. Unsurprisingly, investors were reluctant at first – an ex-con looking to fund a business indirectly catering to prisoners is not exactly the ideal, or even usual, investment. Luckily, though, Hutson persevered, certain that his business idea had the potential to not only be a successful venture, but to improve the quality of life for thousands of people.
The success of Pigeonly
Armed with his convictions, an early version of the platform, and the results of a direct mailing campaign – which saw a 25% response rate, rather than the average 1% – Hutson approached several accelerators and succeeded in getting his business off the ground in 2012.
Today, only eight years later, Pigeonly is the only service provider in its field. The platform features a centralized national inmate database – the first in the country – where family members can find out the current location of a prisoner. Through Pigeonly, sending a letter to an incarcerated individual is as easy as sending an email. The platform additionally includes cheaper prison calls and a photo delivery service. The company, still under Hutson’s leadership, also oversees a support community for families of inmates.
It’s impossible to deny that Hutson’s business instincts, combined with his perseverance, are directly improving the lives of thousands of disadvantaged people in the U.S.